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10 things Alex Sink should have done differently

That Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink came within 65,000 votes of Rick Scott in a huge Republican-dominated midterm election perhaps is testament to how strong a campaign she ran.

But it's also the kind of painfully narrow margin that keeps exhausted campaign operatives pondering what they could have done differently. After all, more than half of Florida voters had a negative impression of Scott, and more than six in 10 of the people who voted for him had reservations.

2010 may have been hopeless for any Democratic candidate in Florida, but what's the fun of finishing a campaign season without some post-Election-Day quarterbacking?

So here are 10 things Alex Sink should have done differently:

1. Accept public financing.

It may have been noble principles that prompted Sink, 62, not to participate in Florida's public campaign financing system, which would have funneled state funds to her because she agreed to cap overall campaign spending. But it was still a mistake. She left $2 million to $4 million on the table that could have gone a long way toward turning out Democratic voters in places like Broward, Palm Beach, Orange and Pinellas counties.

2. Use Rod Smith more.

Sink's running mate is a much better campaigner than her, but he was practically invisible except for some appearances in rural North Florida where they were crushed anyway. The former prosecutor could have been a high-profile attack dog, earning free publicity by blasting Scott over assorted lawsuits, depositions and criminal investigations into his former business.

3. More overtly distance herself from President Barack Obama.

Sure it would have disappointed some parts of the Democratic base. But she would have gained much more than she lost with independents if she had shown some high-profile disagreements with Obama's policies. Avoiding his visits to Florida wasn't enough.

4. Come up with a clearer jobs plan.

Or at least a catchy slogan a la Scott's "Let's get to work."

5. Put more money toward voter turnout efforts.

Sink should have taken a fraction of the money spent on TV ads and put it toward voter turnout. Or if the campaign was convinced it couldn't spare a penny given Scott's massive TV spending, she should have pushed the White House political operation and Democratic National Committee to get started earlier on a voter turnout operation. It's no secret Democrats lagged Republicans in enthusiasm this year and likely needed an extra push to the polls.

6. Play the woman card more.

Why not produce pink Women for Sink stickers similar to what Republican Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi did? Sink did little to appeal directly to women, rarely showing her family or talking about how well she understands the challenges of working women.

7. More outreach to African-Americans.

Exit polls show African-American turnout was strong and Sink won 92 percent of the their vote, but she drew widespread complaints for lack of attention. Days before the election, Sink infuriated a prominent African-American leader in Miami-Dade, Bishop Victor Curry, by skipping his candidate forum.

8. Call Scott the status quo in state government.

Sink could have more aggressively painted Scott as the candidate of Tallahassee insiders and legislative leaders, who now have carte blanche with veto-proof majorities and a Republican governor.

9. Publicly take on the teachers union or trial lawyers.

Pick an issue — say, merit pay, teacher tenure or frivolous lawsuits — to reassure Republicans on the fence that she's not a lackey for unions and trial lawyers.

10. Ignore the cell phone.

Sink should not have looked at the darn cell phone message shown to her by a makeup artist during the final televised debate on CNN. She knew the rules against notes during the debate, and the last thing she needed in the final days of the campaign was a dumb distraction like that.

Would these moves have been enough? Probably not.

Adam C. Smith can be reached at asmith@sptimes.com.

10 things Alex Sink should have done differently 11/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 11:05pm]

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